A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is asking Gov. John Hickenlooper to issue a pardon to clear the record of an Aurora man who was released from prison this week only to face deportation to Cuba, a country he hasn’t seen since he was an infant.
If Hickenlooper grants the request, it would be the first time he’s exercised his constitutional pardon authority since the Democrat has been in office.
It’s only the latest development in a case the governor characterized this week as an “emotional roller coaster” for Rene Lima-Marin and his family.
Lima-Marin, 38, was mistakenly released from prison 90 years early in 2008, only to be re-incarcerated nearly six years later — after starting a family and embarking on a career — once the clerical error that cut short his sentence had been discovered. (Lima-Marin was sentenced to serve 98 years consecutively on a multitude of charges stemming from two video store robberies he committed with an accomplice when he was 19, but a clerk inadvertently indicated he should serve the sentences concurrently.)
In a resolution that passed unanimously, legislators asked Hickenlooper last month to grant Lima-Marin clemency, but a district court judge ordered Lima-Marin freed on Tuesday, calling his continued imprisonment “a manifest injustice.” Then, as his release was being processed, authorities discovered a detainer had been issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and turned Lima-Marin over to ICE agents.
It turned out his Cuban refugee parents had brought him as an infant to these shores during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, and Lima-Marin had been granted permanent residency status but never became a citizen. Under ICE rules, his criminal history — the one that landed him in prison for more than a decade — also made Lima-Marin eligible for deportation.
That’s where the request delivered to the governor Thursday by state Reps. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, and Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, comes in. If Hickenlooper grants Lima-Marin a pardon, they argue, ICE will have no reason to hold him.
“We are asking for you to grant Lima-Marin a pardon,” Rosenthal and Williams wrote. “If you were to do so, quite possibly, the main legal basis for his ICE detainer would be lifted since his crimes would be absolved. The General Assembly has already expressed that he has earned a clemency ‘due to the dramatic positive changes he has made in his life.’ It would be the highest act of cruelty in this case if at the cusp of Lima-Marin about to once again join his wife, Jasmine, and their two sons for a life of freedom, that he be sent away forever.”
The approach was first proposed Wednesday afternoon by immigration attorney Hans Meyer, who on Thursday announced he was representing Lima-Marin in his defense against deportation.
“ICE should release Mr. Lima-Marin from custody and allow him to return home to his family,” Meyer said in a statement. “If they refuse to do so, then Governor Hickenlooper needs to grant Mr. Lima-Marin a pardon in order to give meaning to the Arapahoe District Court’s decision and avoid a manifest injustice in this case.”
A spokesman for ICE operations in Colorado didn’t respond to a request for comment on Friday.
A spokeswoman for the governor acknowledged Hickenlooper had received the lawmakers’ letter and noted that associates of Lima-Marin had also already filed a clemency request. The governor didn’t have anything to add to a statement he’d issued on Wednesday, however, his press secretary Jacque Montgomery told The Statesman on Friday.
“We can’t imagine the emotional roller coaster this family has endured,” Hickenlooper said in a statement when news of his detention by immigration officials broke. “The Colorado Department of Corrections did what was required by law and released Mr. Lima-Marin to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The family has shown amazing strength and we hope this is a temporary stop on his way to being reunited with his family.”
Williams, who received national attention as an immigration policy hardliner in this year’s legislative session, said Lima-Marin’s “remarkable story of redemption … should not be disregarded simply because ICE has decided to step in.”
“When Rene was a baby, his parents took him and left an oppressive Cuba,” Williams said in a statement. “They were all granted permission to stay here and experience the freedom that the United States had to offer. I’m committed to ensuring that Rene is not sent back to a communist country that is ruled by a cruel and repressive regime. I will still do everything I can to help reunite Rene with his family while respecting the rule of law.”
Hickenlooper has only used his pardon and clemency power once — issuing a temporary reprieve for convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap, putting his scheduled execution on hold — in stark contrast to previous governors.
Hickenlooper’s immediate predecessor, Democrat Bill Ritter, a former district attorney, pardoned 42 convicts during the single term he served as governor. Republican Bill Owens issued 13 pardons during his eight years in office, while his predecessor, Democrat Roy Romer, pardoned more than 50 people over the 12 years he was governor. Democrat Dick Lamm, who also served three terms, granted more than 150 pardons.